July 4, 2011
SANAA - Tens of thousands of Yemenis protested in the capital Sanaa on Monday, accusing the authorities of plotting a takeover by extremists of the southern province of Abyan.
The demonstrators marched towards the residence of Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, chanting slogans accusing the authorities of "facilitating the takeover by Al-Qaeda elements" of Abyan.
A five-strong delegation representing the protesters was blocked by guards outside the residence from meeting the deputy of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Under the Yemeni constitution, Hadi replaced the president when he was flown to Saudi Arabia a month ago to be treated for wounds sustained in an explosion at the presidential palace.
In the letter, the protesters urged Hadi to bring an end to what they called "the joke" in Abyan and to take "all necessary measures to protect people" there.
They also demanded that the government reinforce troops fighting alleged Al-Qaeda militants in Abyan.
Yemeni forces have been engaged in heavy fighting with suspected Al-Qaeda militants in Zinjibar, the provincial capital, since late May.
A commander said on Saturday that 50 troops have been posted as missing after clashes with militants around Zinjibar. At least 135 troops have been killed in the clashes, according to military sources.
The commander accused the defence ministry of abandoning the 25th Mechanised Brigade soldiers to their fate in the face of repeated attacks by the Partisans of Sharia (Islamic Law) movement who seized much of Zinjibar in late May.
The Sanaa government says the militants are allied with Al-Qaeda, but the opposition accuses the regime of playing up a jihadist threat in a desperate attempt to keep the embattled Saleh in power.
Saleh had been a key US ally in its "war on terror," but has faced mass protests against his rule since January.
Meanwhile, witnesses reported that thousands of people joined a protest on Monday in the city of Ibb, 190 kilometres (118 miles) south of Sanaa, urging Saudi Arabia to prevent Saleh returning to power.
"Saleh will not return!" they chanted.
The veteran president, 69, who has been in power since 1978, has not appeared in public since the June 3 blast at a mosque in the presidential compound killed 11 people and wounded 124 others, among them senior officials.
In Saleh's absence, Hadi has come under pressure from the parliamentary opposition and the West to assume power, while protesters are demanding that he form an interim ruling council.
Hadi's grip on power is seen as shaky, however, as Saleh relatives hold main security posts. Key among them is his son Ahmed, who leads the elite Republican Guard.